Hilhi Spartans Hurler
Once, twice, three sports for this young lady.
Hillsboro High School's McKenzie Staub loves sports. Soccer, basketball, snowboarding in the winter and wakeboarding come the summer months, the Spartan senior-to-be does them all. But despite her time on the pitch, the hardwood and on mountains and lakes throughout the year, it's softball that means the most to Staub — and Hilhi is lucky to have her.
Last year, as a junior, Staub took over the reins from standout pitcher Payton Goodrich. The highly decorated Spartan was a two-time Northwest Oregon Conference First Team All-League selection, named the 2016 NWOC Player of the Year and earned a scholarship to Oregon State University to play for the Beavers. With Goodrich gone, many thought Hillsboro's hopes went with her to Corvallis. Despite a nucleus of returning young talent, without a proven commodity in the circle even the most talented rosters are limited.
Enter Staub, who, despite the lack of outside expectations, went on to record one of the most impressive pitching seasons in school history — something that came as a bit of a surprise to the then-junior.
"I was surprised at times," Staub said. "But I had a really good club season the season before, and knew that no one really thought we had a pitcher. And that motivated me."
Hillsboro finished with a 27-2 overall record while going a perfect 17-0 in league play before advancing to the state semifinals, where they lost to Dallas 7-4. Staub was nearly flawless for the Sparts, finishing with a 21-1 record and a 0.99 ERA while striking out 277 and walking 36. In addition to her work in the circle, the junior batted .468 with five home runs and 49 RBIs. Her performance garnered a share of NWOC Pitcher of the Year honors, along with a first team all-state selection.
It was truly a remarkable year, and one that didn't go unnoticed by first-year softball coach Sara Harsin.
"She had a heck of a year in the circle," Harsin said. "There were a lot of unknowns entering this season, and what McKenzie was going to do in the circle was one of them. It's pretty incredible to go from not pitching a single game the year prior to Pitcher of the Year."
Staub was born and raised in Hillsboro, the daughter of Ron and Sara. She has a brother, Jacob, and a sister, Madison, and as long as she can remember, she loved sports.
She began playing tee-ball when she was six — as well as soccer and basketball — and softball by the third grade. While she finds soccer and basketball enjoyable, it's on the diamond that she's most at home, due primarily to growing up in what she called a softball and baseball family.
"My dad played baseball in college, and my brother and sister played baseball and softball as well," Staub said. "I went to Groner (elementary) and everyone played tee-ball together. My parents always coached. That's a really good memory I have."
Staub could always run, but to say things came easy for the senior-to-be would be a stretch. Despite having a level of natural ability, she credits her dad, along with good old fashioned hard work, for becoming who she is today on the diamond.
"I was always fast and really competitive, but for a couple years softball was a struggle for me," she said. "I could always pitch, but hitting didn't come easy. I had to work really hard and it's paid off. My dad knows a lot about hitting and he's always worked with me, but I didn't start really hitting until seventh or eighth grade."
In addition, Staub credits her competitiveness in helping her succeed both on and off the field. She said she's learned to use that competitive drive to her benefit, rather than allow it to hinder her effort by trying too hard. She believes in hard work and setting goals, and isn't afraid to push herself to reach them.
"I work toward things," she said. "I'm really competitive and that pushes me. A lot of people said Hilhi wouldn't go far this year and that really motivated me to pitch better and faster. I set goals prior to the season and worked hard to reach them."
While softball is her favorite, and in today's climate a nearly year-round sport, Staub enjoys the soccer and basketball seasons, too, viewing them as opportunities to combat the monotony that typically accompanies anything you do on a regular basis.
"It's really fun playing the other sports," Staub said. "The summer softball season is really long, so when soccer comes I'm definitely ready for it and it's a lot of fun. Then basketball is great, too."
She applies that same enthusiasm and work ethic to the classroom as well, where she's taking IB (International Baccalaureate) classes — designed to create a rigorous and interdisciplinary course of study for students seeking an educational experience that develops the necessary skills to excel in an increasingly competitive environment — and working toward an IB diploma.
"School is definitely a priority for me," she said.
And what does the standout have planned for her senior year? Fun, of course, but when it comes to softball, she and her nearly full squad of returning players have their sights set on again exceeding expectations — maybe on the way to a state title.
"We haven't talked about a state championship, but we know we're capable of it," she said. "We have almost our whole team back, and we know we could've beaten that team (Dallas). We gave it our all, but some things didn't go our way and now we're really looking forward to next year."